Last week I went for a walk in rather grey and glowery weather. It was in hope of seeing some earlier spring signs but was more a reminder that winter persists.
I found a small collection of glistening inkcaps, along with one of my favourite large brackets. Those are pictured here with my hand for scale.
Otherwise there were some small polypores (probably turkey tail) and a few lichens that had been enriched by recent rain.
Life is rather full-on at the moment so I’m not finding the time or energy to write something longer or more detailed. It’s also a mental thing, just don’t have a lot to say. Photography will be the focus in posts for a little while.
Hi everyone! After a bit of a break from podcasting, it’s great to release a new episode of Unlocking Landscapes. This has taken a while to edit but it’s a really relaxing one I think. So much so that I actually fell asleep when listening to one of the drafts a few months ago.
In May 2021 I walked 8 miles into the Sussex Weald to see if I could hear a cuckoo. The weather was fine and there were loads of birds out, many of them in full song. This is an episode best listened to through headphones so you can hear the birdsong, the wind through the trees and the buzzing of bees in the woodland landscape of the High Weald. It’s an immersive episode with a guided walk feel, focusing on listening to the surrounding landscape.
At long last some time in the woods! Get ready for a mammoth mushroom post to celebrate the start of the season. I am so annoyed to have missed UK Fungus Day due to work commitments (no time or energy to do writing, visit woods or take photos) and also I have at least one other mushroom post that hasn’t made it to the surface yet.
In south-eastern England we have finally had some rain after a very dry summer. iNaturalist and social media have shown lots of autumn mushrooms popping up, including the first fly agarics. This week I had the chance to check things out for myself, and was not disappointed.
I am fortunate enough to live near a large expanse of ancient woodland/wooded heathland which is part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This landscape is fungal heaven in places that have been wooded for more than 400 years. It’s dominated by birch, oak, beech and pine, trees that have strong associations with fungi.
The early signs were good as I discovered a beefsteak fungus growing at the base of an oak tree. This is a species which can be mistaken for body parts, and though it’s parasitic, its impact is said to work more slowly than a tree’s ability to heal itself.
Amethyst deceivers are a common species at this time of year, often found growing in profusion. I spotted this tiny one growing in moss at the base of a tree.
Recent storms had created a realignment of the woodland canopy. A beech tree had broken off in high winds, opening up the woodland to light. The concentrations of deer are high here, so it will be interesting to see how well the woodland manages to renew in this sudden clearing.
No, this is not an amphibian! I spotted this holly leaf covered in a species of wart-like fungus which I think might be in this family. Please add a comment if you know what it is.
Lurking behind a fallen log was what I think is a deer shield mushroom. I saw far more in the proximity of fallen wood, rather than in the open woodland floor. Perhaps the heavy rain recently has washed things away.
This mazegill-like crust fungus caught my eye.
This small polypore, which I have not looked to ID yet, was in fine fettle on a little birch stump. Not unlike a thought-cloud.
A reminder that it’s not just humans that enjoy fungi. Not that anyone is in any rush to chow down on this one.
This crust fungus interested me as it looked like a map of Scandinavian islands.
It’s always nice to find a bolete. This is probably a birch bolete as it was growing underneath birch trees. I moved the beech leaf but it fell into this position purely by accident. Lots of autumn happening here.
There were two moments during this two-hour walk that I let out some expression of joy upon finding mushrooms to photograph. I don’t know what family this, well, family of fungi, are in, but they are beautiful. I love to find fungi in this state, at this time of year, before the leaves have fallen.
Autumn appearing in beech, birch and bracken.
As a lone male visiting woodland, I am very aware of the impact my presence could have on women who are walking alone. I saw a woman walking and turned away to walk a different path to ensure she didn’t have to experience the fear of having some weird dude approach in a secluded area or pinchpoint of woodland. I also have my camera clearly on show. Sometimes I have considered getting a hi-vis vest with a mushroom emoji on the back. I would implore other men to consider how you are perceived in similar situations.
A pine tree had come unstuck and much of its bark had been pulled away. Looking more closely I could see some kind of root network. Now I’m not sure if these are aerial roots put on by the tree as it tried to consume its own decaying matter. Then again there was a lot of hyphae-like structure in among the roots, but the whole structure couldn’t have been all fungi. Here we have the foundation for much of life on earth, the partnership of fungi and plants.
It made me think of how Britain is faring at the moment. We cut our ties with our European neighbours in January 2021 (i.e. the wood-wide web), thinking we could grow taller and stronger alone. The truth is that everything is connected and we are diminishing in isolation because we need our nearest neighbours to thrive.
And then I found a mushroom I had never seen before – a webcap, probably violet webcap!
Seeing this mushroom sitting there took my breath away. It is a stunning fungus. The photographs just don’t do it justice.
Looking back at the photos I could see a spider using the underside of the cap as a place to find prey. It’s a smart move as many small insects and other arthropods are attracted to mushroom gills and caps.
One of the highlights of this walk, literally, were the spreads of yellow staghorn in the moss.
Their likeness to flames is really pleasing. I also love how they grow out of a tiny alcove in fallen wood as if from a little firepit.
Here is an example of how far and wide the little fires were burning.
Here are some landscape images from a March visit to Mayo which I’ve been posting a bit of recently. This landscape fascinates me in many ways: the cultural history (of which my family has links), the ecology and geology. My family’s cottage is located near a mountain range that would probably be classified as hills… Continue reading The homefires burn in the mountains of Mayo 🇮🇪→
Nymans is one of the jewels in the Sussex Weald, with amazing views across woodlands towards the South Downs. I usually photograph less formal landscapes than National Trust gardens, but perhaps I am too particular sometimes.… Continue reading April flowers at Nymans 🌹→
A couple of weeks ago I decided to try an outdoor recording for Unlocking Landscapes. This walk was 8 miles in total from my front door to visit a nearby area of woodland in the Sussex Weald:
Please subscribe to the Unlocking Landscapes YouTube here.
You can tell from the podcast that this latest English lockdown has affected my lung capacity, I’m a bit breathy at times! There’s only so much editing you can do though. One to remember for future episodes.
Anyway, the areas of interest in this episode are:
Woodland streams, known in this area as ‘gills’
Heathlands and plantations
Sphagnum moss bogs
Ancient and veteran trees, especially beech (Fagus sylvatica)
I’d love to know what you think of this episode and if you’d like to hear more in future. You can comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much for listening and I hope you enjoy.
On social media in recent weeks one of the dominant fungi photographed has been a bright red cup fungus. This species is one of the most visually stunning, standing out like an elf’s sore thumb in a winter wood. I’m talking about scarlet elf cup.
I visited an area of woodland I have featured many times here, but a place I haven’t been to this year. I don’t know why, it’s close to home but usually requires a car journey because it’s awkwardly difficult to walk to. It’s a mixed ancient woodland with a stream running through it and heathland on its upper slopes.
In the UK heathland is a sandy habitat dominated by heather and pine. In terms, dry lowland heath is rarer than rainforest.
This woodland is managed with the support of volunteers. I don’t know the people who do the good work there but they clearly spend a good amount of time building what I know as dead hedges. These are barriers or piles of cuttings, branches, twigs and sometimes logs. They are there mainly to protect sensitive areas of soil where ancient woodland plants grow. It’s to keep people on the paths, which is best for the health of a woodland overall. These dead hedges also happen to be excellent habitat for wildlife like fungi.
From my experience in the woods and by looking at other people’s photos, I would say scarlet elf cups are happiest in damp, shaded areas. I would even say they are so keen on dampness that alongside streams and rivers is usually a good place to find them. This was a bit of a way from a stream but it ticked all the other boxes. You can see here that it’s growing from a small stick.
This is a nice example of this gorgeous fungus (not something you hear often enough). They grow on something similar to a stem but are a different set of fungi to the usual stipe-based mushrooms. Cup fungi are ‘ascomycetes’ (ask-oh-my-seets) and are spore shooters. ‘Basidiomycetes’ are spore droppers, most of them being the gilled mushroom types.
This area probably had hundreds of scarlet elf cups growing in this long stretch of dead hedge. It will be good habitat for lots of other species as well, including invertebrates and sometimes they’re big enough for small birds like wrens to nest in. The specimen above was snug as a shroom in a trug.
From what I know it’s an edible species, but I wasn’t about to clean out all these fungi from their wild habitat. I had mushrooms in my fridge that were a couple of days close to their best!
On a recent trip to Ireland, my Mum and I spent some time at a garden centre trying to find hedging plants. Having been poisoned by cherry laurel once, and having professionally removed a lot of it, that was not on the agenda. Instead, I was looking along the lines of a good old conservation… Continue reading Pulling up roots and planting “whitethorn” 🇮🇪→
In early May I was fortunate enough to visit a chalk grassland site near Brighton with two people who knew the landscape extremely well. I had been invited to visit this area to help find early spider orchids 3 years ago but the pandemic got in the way of travelling there.… Continue reading Early spider orchids 🕷️→
I want to start by saying thank you to everyone who stopped by last week to read my click-bait post about honey fungus. The post had nearly 200 views in one day, which is a huge amount for this blog and broke the single day record. My blog could have nearly twice the number of visitors as in 2019, probably due to the fact I have had more time to walk locally taking photos and to spend time writing these posts. Otherwise I would be stuck in a car driving to and from an office I probably didn’t even need to visit so often.
I think the fact more people are working from home could be key to protecting local green spaces going forward. In the UK ‘lockdown’, as the period of late-March and most of April and May 2020 are known, millions of people discovered their local green spaces. If people value something close to home, they will learn about it and in their stewardship, nurture and defend it. I discovered fungi close to home, and I’ve sought it closer and closer ever since.
This is black bulgar, a rather odd species that seems to explode in October on large fallen branches. The first time I saw this, it had appeared on the fallen limb of a massive oak tree which had come down that summer.
This rather unsightly mushroom did get my heart racing at first. I thought it was perhaps my first local deathcap, but really I think it’s the false deathcap. It has the classic Amanita bulb at the base. I think the colouring of the cap is wrong for deathcap and it has some of the brownish scales of the false deathcap, on the cap.
When the ground isn’t producing the shrooms needed at this time of year, I look to the moss growing on tree trunks. You can often find very small mushrooms there, perhaps bonnets (mycena) or galerinas. The moss holds on to the rainfall for longer, meaning fungi, some of which are parasitic on moss, can prosper. Let’s call them… mosshrooms!
This lovely little mosshroom had actually snapped but I rotated the image for effect.
This beautiful little grey-blue mushroom epitomises the mossy shroomlet. As you can see from the moss fronds, it was very small indeed.
One of my first #FungiFriday blogs was about candlesnuff fungus. It looks quite neat at the stage seen above, when it is first beginning to fruit. In dry conditions you can flick the white ‘wick’ and the spores appear as smoke from a snuffed candle.
A similar type of fungus was this yellow staghorn, a common species. It was growing down on a mossed-over stump on the woodland floor. That oak leaf on the right (I think Turkey oak, Quercus cerris) is so beautiful.
The most unusual find was in the raised rootplate of a rhododendron. From above they looked like potatoes. I am fairly confident this is a cep, Boletus edulis. It is, of course, also known as porcini and is one of the most sought after edible mushrooms. Foraging is not something I do commonly, so I left it there to grow on its merry way.
This scraggly crew are a common but no less beautiful mushroom – amethyst deceiver. They are easy to identify due to their colour and size and are a very common species in the UK. I do find that they are happier in older, more stable woodland. Aren’t we all?
At last the rain has arrived. But did it bring a deluge of the mushroom kind? On a lovely clear evening after work I went to the woods to find out.
Even in dry times there is one fungus that will not desert you. Artist’s bracket is a bracket fungus in the family Ganoderma. It gets its common name from the fact you can draw on the sporey underside of the fungus, usually something like noughts and crosses. I’ve seen these fungi get to be huge but in most places they are usually broken off by human hands.
They have the ability to renew themselves, though, as this one above has begun to do. I read somewhere that this fungus produces 30billion spores an hour. Suppose I’ve taken a few home with me then.
After rain like we’ve had in the past week in southern England, you don’t dream of bracket fungi. Or do you?
Walking along a path in an area of open woodland my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw this massive dryad’s saddle sprouting from a dead sycamore tree. This area has been hammered by the combination of no rain and heavy footfall impacting after clearance work of sycamore has taken place, so I wasn’t considering the possibility of fungi being present.
This is a fungus to find at this time of year. Due to its size, it will often find you. It’s an edible species but probably not at this stage. I’m writing this rather bleary eyed because I’ve spent the past couple of days researching the cultural heritage of oak trees for a talk I gave this week. Little did I know that dryad actually means ‘oak tree nypmh’, rather than simply ‘wood nymph’. The idea is that a nymph, or woodland sprite, or fairy, would sit on this bracket and hurl abuse at passers-by.
I was looking down at some moss on the woodland floor when I discovered these baffling, miniscule mushrooms. They were about the size of a grain of rough sea salt. On their caps were these spikes, at first thought perhaps another fungus or mould growing on top.
It just made me realise how much we can miss, these were some of the smallest fruiting bodies I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what they are.
Next door was something a little larger, probably a bonnet of some kind. I don’t have the knowledge to get any closer than that. Again, this wasn’t much bigger than the weird fruiting dudes alongside it.
After a good couple of hours searching, it was time to head home. Dramatic clouds built over the heath, perhaps with more rain to feed the fungi. We shall see.
This blog has now entered into its sixth month and the real-time fungi action hasn’t really happened, as this one will illustrate. Last week I went for an optimistic jaunt to my local ancient woodland/plantation/heathland to see if anything had popped up. I was astonished, not that there was very little to see, but at how dry the woodland was.
It should come as no surprise that I only found one fruiting body, growing out of a bit of deadwood, which would already have some moisture inside the decaying wood. My footsteps were so loud as I walked across the leaf litter. But then we have just had the sunniest May and one of the driest springs on record. Across the south of England warnings have been in place about the high risk of fire. Very disappointingly but not surprisingly, fires are ravaging heathlands as I type. At least some of these are because of visitor impact, either arson or things like disposable barbecues.
I went for a second mushroom hike – that’s how dedicated I am to this series – and found that an area of more wet oak woodland also had almost nothing appearing. I found so little that I didn’t even get my camera out and instead just used my average phone camera. Sign of the times. The best I could muster was the porcelain fungus above, growing from a beech log that had rolled into the dried out gill. Last winter I saw that stream overflowing.
It would be wrong to say that there is no fungi, because fungi is the life we do not see. This stick, looking a bit like a blue whale or a squid, is made green by green elf cup. This is the work of the mycelium, the true living part of the fungus.
In autumn small green fruiting bodies will appear as above. This was taken in October 2019.
If you need them, you can always rely on a bracket fungus in the dry season. This is artist’s or southern bracket, what most people will generally call by its Latin name Ganoderma.
I found these blushing brackets (I think) on the path, they were crisp and dry. This species begins pale, blushing red and then turning to black.
This is an area of woodland that is quite good for fungi, compared to the wider condition of the wood. It suffers from a huge amount of trampling. Please see what I’m about to say as objective comments on the physical state of this place, I am not attacking the land managers. Last autumn much of the holly in this area was cut and left. The aim was almost certainly to allow more light in to replenish the woodland floor. The brash, as it’s called, now covers where most of the fruiting bodies appear, and the holly will not break down soon enough for those fruiting bodies to appear again in perhaps the next five years.
In a previous job we would undertake thinning of holly and dead hedging to protect areas from trampling. The majority of pubicly accessible woodlands in southern England have fairly high levels of footfall, dog walking and the nitrogen enrichment that comes from dog waste. I mention this because I worked in a woodland which was only 20 acres in size but which had 100,000+ visitors annually, with probably around 50,000 dog visits. Holly was absolutely key to protecting soils from erosion and the creation of news paths, and protecting birds and other wildlife from disturbance.
Removing holly on this scale can result in the opening of areas to unintended impact where it could infact have the reverse effect desired. More light will come in to replenish the woodland floor, but more feet will come too and the soil will suffer, along with everything that needs it. Basically everything. I write this absolutely knowing that I provide some of those footsteps, but they are kept to desirelines and I do not have a dog that I allow to run free in these areas. Dog walkers will tell me that children have the same impact.
The holly creates a microclimate which in hot dry periods such as this, means that soil retains moisture and fungal fruiting bodies can do their thing, a thing that is a key part of the reason a woodland is there in the first place: reproduce, break down organic matter, feed the trees that need them, and recycle organic matter into new soils.
I wonder, do woodland managers ever think about fungi through anything beyond leaving dead trees to stand and logs to rot down on the ground? Does anyone consider the need for microclimates within woodland to ensure a mosaic of micro-habitats? Again, this is not an attack, just observations and pointers from my own experience.
When I began in woodland management (the account of one of my first days is the post visitors seem to read in their droves to on this website) I did not consider fungi as I do now. Seeing as fungi has such a crucial role to play in our woodlands, sooner or later we need to ensure that in dry spells such as these there are safeguards, like holly, to support fungi.
The Weald holds so many future Fungi Fridays. It’s an ancient wooded landscape that stretches across Sussex, parts of Surrey and into Kent. It covers the most wooded part of the UK in East Sussex. Once it will have connected with the New Forest, forming much of England’s post-glacial ‘wildwood’. I am very privileged to live within rambling distance of the Weald. I write about walks in it once a month, check that out if you will.
I managed to sneak ninety minutes in locally last week and found plenty of interesting things. As well as the ‘dark side’ of fungi, a reminder that a fungus giveth, and it taketh away.
We have had two storms in two weeks in Sussex and the winter streams are tickling through the woodland understory. Above, a tree was resting in a winterborne. This means a stream that only flows in winter when rainfall is higher. In Ireland, lakes (or loughs) that appear in winter are known as ‘turloughs’. Got plenty of those right now in Brexit-land.
The log was covered in some nice looking turkeytail, a very common polypore that is said have anti-carcinogenic properties. It was a nice way to start.
Then I happened upon these absolute corkers growing on a dead birch tree. These are blushing bracket in their mature stage. This area of the woodland is very wet, with mosses like sphagnum attempting to recolonise more places. It is set in amongst mature beech trees at the edge of heath-ier habitats, largely consumed by pines that were planted, rank and file, by the Forestry Commission in the 20th Century. It’s very wet and many birches are succumbing there. This is natural.
This is a standalone dead birch tree with birch polypore, also known as razorstrop fungus. It’s a tough bracket fungus that people probably once used to sharpen their razors. It naturally controls birch trees and breaks them down for other organisms to devour, and therefore new soils to be created.
Here’s a quick macro of one of the mosses from the work of the razorstrop, looking much like a cedar or a fern.
I found some split gills looking rather shaggy, in a good way. If you look at the yellow smatterings around, I think that’s a slime mould making its way across the surface of the bark.
Rewind to May in this area, when the first leaves were appearing on the trees and the ground was far drier. This is one of my favourite trees to photograph in this woodland because of the orange algae and the beautiful buttresses at the tree’s base.
Here it is in December, the ground much more wet, the leaves all gone. Can you see the bracket fungus at its base? It has been damaged, probably by a visitor testing its strength.
And here it was last week. Evidently the tree has been destabilised by the decay which has been accelerated by the fungus. This has softened the heartwood which leaves the tree vulnerable to storm damage.
But this veteran beech tree still lives, it has only lost one of its three trunks. I hope it can remain where it is and continue down its veteran path into the realm of the ancients.
It’s just another reminder that fungi has its own way in the world and there is no sentimentality involved. It’s there to break down organic matter. Trees were not a safety concern until we started walking underneath them everyday.
Some species share what they can find, others take, take, take. It’s in their nature. But in the end fungi are contributing to vital processes of organic recycling and renewal. Without the ecological role of fungi our species would not exist writing blogs, taking photos, hurling abuse at passers by, or walking under veteran trees in the woods.
The sun hasn’t yet reached St. Leonard’s Forest. Frost covers the depressed spreads of bracken at the edge of trees. A dawn chorus still rattles on, dominated by song thrush posted across this wooded landscape. In the distance there comes the clopping of horse hoofs, a throwback to the days when highwaymen roamed the Weald and when people travelled almost anywhere far away enough, on horseback.
The horse riders appear on the hard track ahead of me. They’re galloping until they see me, surrounded by a cloud of perspiration. Their upper bodies are coloured yellow, green and orange by hi-visibility vests. The man leading the troop glares at me from under his helmet as I pass with birch trees between us. Perhaps he thinks I’m a warden.
‘Good morning!’ I shout across to them, which is met with a murmur.
Off they trot.
Beyond the stands of spruce and pine planted on old areas of heath, the sun is climbing. I can hear the wash of the M23 as vehicles roar through its wound in the Weald. It’s one I use a couple of times a month, too, when heading further south and then east.
The first breaks of sun glow golden in birches and the spreading branches of pines. The remnant flowers of heather persist like leftover decorations.
When the sun breaks the tops of the pines, things begin to change. Rays of light cut through the plantations and light small fires in the beds of bracken. They burn amber at the base of pines.
The birds remain elusive: crests, tits, siskins, woodpeckers. They’re all here but they’ve found all that’s left of the shadows. I can only see silhouettes.
More people are arriving now with the sun, all with dogs. One couple have more than ten between them, one pug-like thing snarls and froths at the mouth, following me for a good minute. Of course, the apologies come. It’s such a common thing, you get bored of saying ‘don’t worry about it.’
I notice a spread of oak trees, the sun crashing down through their boughs. One curved oak with a trunk lit entirely with green moss opens its door to yet more of its fellow species. These oaks are walking out of a cold and frost-bitten night, the icy coating on the vegetation around them steaming as it melts away in the day’s eyes.